Thursday, July 4, 2013

Keep the woo-woo stuff to yourself?

"What is soul? 
It's like electricity — we don't really know what it is,
but it's a force that can light a room."
~Ray Charles

Recently, I started offering more and more group and individual sessions at an eating disorder recovery center in San Diego where I work with both teens and adults. It's been an absolutely amazing experience thus far, combining all the things I've always been passionate about (psychology, healing, eating disorder recovery, yoga) with the freedom to offer new process modalities to these clients, more along the lines of what I wish I had throughout my intensive outpatient treatment. 

In fact, a lot of what my role at the center has become is one of nurturing — I provide the comfort and the sacred space for these clients to move through what can be quite intense during their other sessions and simply create a bit of reprieve from the thoughts in their heads and the feelings in their hearts. 

However, during a recent treatment team meeting, it was brought to my attention that a bit of what I say can be perceived as too "woo-woo" for several of the clients and that they're afraid my spiritual beliefs may conflict with that of others. 

It took me a moment to catch myself before becoming offended, because I know that I'm open to every belief system available and that what I offer doesn't adhere to any specific one. But, I could see how my words, languaging, and intention could come across in a way that either puts others off, scares them, or challenges them. 

"I teach in a yoga studio that's very spiritual," I explain, "so I can see why I'd need to tone that back a bit for the general population or for others who either aren't open to any sort of spiritual beliefs or have very strong beliefs of their own."

"We know that what you're doing is incredibly therapeutic and valuable," the owner of the recovery center shares. "And we definitely want the clients to try it out or keep coming, but maybe you could change the phrasing of some of what you say or just be cognizant of that?"

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda, a book that features a fascinating study of how ancient Vedantic philosophy has made substantial impressions upon much of Western culture and its leading luminaries, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and The Beatles, without our even realizing it. We chatted over lunch about the idea of "Westernizing" Eastern teachings in order to make it palatable to a different palate. 

"What I came to really appreciate after the book was done," Philip told me, "is that all these teachings and teachers who had an impact on our society had this important skill of being able to adapt these universal ancient teachings to a new era, a new audience, the English language, and Western culture's norms and values. At the same time, they protected the integrity of the teachings, because you can adapt them in a way that corrupts or distorts them. It's a very delicate balance."

So now, I get to learn the balance of stepping back and learning how to teach in a way that's not compromising these ideals, yet at the same time, appealing to those who aren't open to pursuing more than the benefits of what they would get from the practice. 

It's funny, because it took me quite a long while to step forward in what I believe, so perhaps it's not so much a "stepping back," as it is a growing around deepening my tolerance, compassion, and openness about others from different backgrounds and life stories. 

What an interesting way for me to further develop as a teacher, to stand in my truth while also being welcoming of others' realities. I'd spent all of my life being a people-pleaser to garner love and affection, and thankfully, I don't feel that I need to do that anymore. 

Instead, for example, when one of the teen girls was pressing against my authority, I didn't want her to like me — I actually surprised myself that I could care less if she did, because my setting healthy boundaries would be the best way to move forward with her treatment. 

The Universe loves me so much that it continues to present opportunities for my growth and healing, along with that of others. I'm grateful for this chance to define who I am irregardless of what others think or feel, while simultaneously respecting that everyone has the choice to love and feel however they'd like to. 

As one adage goes, "What you think is none of my business." 

How are you learning to find the balance of being you in the midst of a world of both challenges and supports that? 

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